Art & Culture - 08/20/18

The Saigon Mystery Tour

Written by Sarah N

Urban Tales’ founder Nicolas Plesse invites you to solve The Strange Case of Dr Lam…a tale of murder and mystery that makes for a unique way to get to know Saigon’s historical hub of Chinatown.

Since December 2014, Urban Tales has enabled over 3,000 tourists to experience Saigon’s Chinatown in a rather unusual way. Join their throng, and you’ll find yourself led through a hidden alleyway, up flights of stone steps and finally presented with a cup of traditional Chinese tea, as your task is explained to you…

Last night at 10.30pm, the well-respected Dr Lam was found dead in his apartment under strange circumstances. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to investigate his death and find out who is responsible. As you progress through the game, it not only becomes apparent that there is more to the story than it seems, but you also find yourself on a magical mystery tour of Saigon’s Chinatown in a feat of travel genius.

“I am a role playing game player and master. I am also a professional of tourism for about 15 years, including 10 working in Vietnam,” explains Nicolas Plesse. “For years, I have been wondering if we could mix both passions. Was it possible to design a tour that would require the participants to play a role? The idea seemed excellent but, at that time, we had no way to be sure this would appeal to anyone. We still decided to go for it. And today, Urban Tales is open in Hanoi and HCMC”. He believes Chinatown, known to the locals as Cholon, makes the perfect setting for his murder mystery game, with its rich history and vibrant Chinese culture, intricately decorated temples and influence of traditional medicine: “All in all, Cholon is an open-air market full with history and relics and was the perfect setting to immerse the participants in a mystery tour.”

Setting off on an Urban Tales mystery, visitors are armed with clues found at the scene of the crime and then furnished with a bag of helpful hints and objects, before being left to their own devices. There are a number of locations marked on a map they’re encouraged to explore such as Chinese assembly halls and various pagodas. They’re then expected to solve secret codes, find hidden information and approach local actors to piece together the pieces of the puzzle. In the event that anyone gets lost, they’re provided with a basic phone to call for help.

Setting up Urban Tales hasn’t been one smooth journey. Some were skeptical that such an unusual tourism idea would gain popularity in Saigon, but Nicolas was determined. “I had a clear idea of what I wanted, and we did our best to make it happen. Surprisingly, it was much more simple than expected. We took time to meet traditional doctors, introduce ourselves to the different temples and pagodas we wanted to feature in the game. A few months later, the game was running without major issues.” After every tour, Nicolas calls personally to receive feedback so he can continue to make Urban Tales a positive experience for all. So far, the reception has been excellent.

With two Urban Tales established in Vietnam, Nicolas and his team are currently working on another in a neighbouring country. “I would love to design longer trips, for example in the Mekong Delta, that would follow the same pattern as Urban Tales. I also hope we will be able to implement Urban Tales in other countries, and why not in Europe.” he says. Following Urban Tales’ current success, it seems that could be an entirely possible feat.

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